What to look for in a mentor.
I don’t assume that this is the first piece you are reading about mentors. Neither do I assume that the word is new to you. It seems to be the new rave of the moment but it is not another fad or another trending principle in the realm of thought leadership. It’s also not another alluring addition to the relevance of life coaches.
Mentors are simply important. It seems that the value placed on having, and being, one increased in the last few decades but that doesn’t detract from its overall usefulness. If you intend to advance progressively in your chosen career path, then you would need to attach yourself to someone who has walked the path you now seek to thread. You would need someone who can provide insights and point out pitfalls. You would need someone who can provide instructions, and answer your confusing questions. This is what the whole idea of a mentor entails. For you, that person you gain clarity from, and seemingly are under his tutelage, is your mentor. It is possible that before now you’ve tried to get one and it just didn’t work out. Or you just don’t know what should inform your choice in one. How do you know that that man or woman will be the right person to mentor you?
Here are a few pointers:
1. Their roles should meet a specific need of yours.
What they do, or what they represent, should relate to what you want to do/ be. That is, their roles have to be specific to your needs. If you’ve been having serious challenges in your relationship, your mentor, if you choose to get one, should be someone whose relationship or marriage, you admire. When that’s the case, every interaction you have with them should be providing you with insights into how to make your relationship better. Your academics mentor would be the wrong person to approach to solve a relationship problem for you. On the other hand, every time you meet with your academic mentor, your conversations should naturally tilt to academics matters: the next seminar, the scholarship programs available to you, and every such matters. Let your relationship with your mentors be specific and defined.
2. They have to be persons you can trust.
Your mentor should be someone you feel comfortable with. Mentorship involves a good deal of sincerity and opening up, in order to achieve the best of results. If you do not feel free expressing yourself to them, then it’s actually of no use being with them. This means you have to observe the personality of your proposed mentor, and ask yourself the needed questions: “Are they too cold for me?” “Will I be able to talk comfortably with her?” “Can I trust him?” Your mentor should be someone who gets you.
3. They have to be persons you can understand.
This one may be a no-brainer but, the both of you should speak the same language. I was posted to a school in the villages and one major challenge I had as a teacher, was the language barrier existing between me and the students. I had good intentions to teach them as best as I could, but every time I left the classroom with just two or three of them understanding me, my resolve weakened. As the end of my stay drew nearer, I realized that there was just so little I could do. They did not understand my words.
Beyond the language, your mentor should be someone who you understand. Do they use highfalutin words when they speak? And can you understand them without hassles?
4. You have to approve of their personality.
You become like the people you spend time with; before long, their personality begins to rub off on you. So, consider the character and lifestyle of the person you want to mentor you. Would you be happy if your life ends up looking like theirs? This is because mentorship is more like molding. If they mold you into their image, hope you’d be bold to live like so. Don’t say: I only meet him to receive guidelines on how to do better in my career, so it’s not my business if he’s an alcoholic and a drug addict. True, it’s not your business what they do but don’t be surprised when you begin to incline towards the same. Your close friends’ lifestyle rubs off on you with time; and it is same thing here, So, exercise due diligence then.
5. Their schedule has to allow time for a mentee.
Don’t get carried away by the influence they command that you fail to ensure they will have time for you. They must have the time to spare for you. When you first approach them with the request that they mentor you, talk with them and find out if they would genuinely have the time to attend to you. If they cannot free up time, then there is nothing you can do, but observe them from a distance—read their books, listen to their podcasts, follow their post, etc. And if they can, and they fix an appointment, sure be disciplined enough to keep to it.
In addition to the above, there has to be a similarity of purpose between you and your mentor. You don’t decide to have someone mentor you just because that person is a mentor to your girlfriend, and she has been filling you with endless stories and testimonies of how amazing they are. What works for her might not work for you. Therefore, intentionally and carefully, select your mentors.
And also, have the patience and personal discipline required to make the process work. Accord your mentors the respect that they deserve. If they have placed the relationship at an official level, leave it at that; don’t try to get too familiar, and start asking them what they had for lunch and where they’d love to spend their vacation. Be wise in your dealings.
Mentors make the journey a bit easier for you. I wish you the best in your search!